Garry Newport’s earliest hockey memory dates back to the day in 1952 when arrived at the rink without his pants.
Hockey pants, that is.
“My dad was in the air force, so we lived in Europe,” Newport recalled.
“I showed up for a championship game with no (hockey) pants. I think I was seven or eight years old and you used suspenders back then, so I looked pretty funny (playing) with a pair of jeans, suspenders and socks.”
The pants incident occurred in the formative years of Newport’s marriage to the sport, which has spanned nearly seven decades, as both a player and a coach.
And from day one, Newport hasn’t strayed far from his side of the ice.
“I’ve played right wing since I was three years old,” said the 73-year-old, who is the oldest player in the Adult Ice Hockey Club (AIHC) based out of the Langley Sportsplex.
The highest level Newport played was junior B in Goderich, Ont.
And while his aspirations eventually fizzled, his love of the sport has kept him on the ice for decades.
“Oh, I wasn’t good enough,” Newport said, reflecting on his brief junior hockey career. “I’m too small.”
He took a two-year hiatus from recreational hockey about 12 years ago for health reasons but re-entered the game after seeing an ad for players put out by local league manager Brian Brown.
“I phoned him up and he said, ‘Yep, you can be on this team,’” Newport said. “He gave me the name of the guy who was running the team and the rest is history.”
For the past two winters, Newport has run the co-ed Golden Bears, who play in the AIHC’s Monday Night Oldtimers Division.
“I think it’s a great mix of people and a variety of skills,” Newport said. “My philosophy now is I’m up the ice and back up the ice one more time and get off. I’m a 45-second guy and that’s more than enough.”
The games are an hour long. The clock doesn’t doesn’t stop when the whistle blows, and Newport encourages his players to share precious ice time with others.
“I preach to everybody that you don’t have to be out there for three or four minutes, and you’re not doing anybody any good when you’re out there that long. I’ve run this team for two years now and they’ve all bought into, ‘Hey, a minute max, and get off the ice.’”
The games are “very competitive,” said Newport.
“It’s the nature of the game, you know, the competitiveness,” he said. “It’s a players’ league, where all the guys respect the girls and some of the girls are really good hockey players. We’re all playing for something. There’s always a means to an end and everybody likes to win. That never goes away.”
The camaraderie, coupled with the fact he’s still able to keep up with the play, are what Newport finds most appealing about the game.
“In the league I play in, yeah, I can keep up with pretty much anybody who’s out there,” he said. “I scored a couple goals in the playoffs.”
Brown, who likens Newport to the player-coach Reg Dunlop, played by Paul Newman in the iconic hockey movie Slapshot, mixes players of different levels on teams within the division for the sake of parity.
Playing in a higher division “was getting to be too much for some of the guys,” said Newport.
“So we started this other four-team league and a lot of the players that I played with on the previous team came over and were dispersed among the teams that play in this league,” he said. “So I knew lots of the players.”
While he retired just seven years ago from the structural steel business, Newport doesn’t plan to hang up his skates anytime soon.
“As long as my health will allow me to,” Brown responded, when asked how long he plans on playing. “I do it for the exercise, to get the cardio going, and now that spring is here I golf, so I get my exercise that way, too.”
And while the pace is slower than the days when he played in the top-level rec leagues, Brown said he still gets the occasional bumps and bruises that come part-and-parcel with the sport.
“You still get knocked around out there once in a while,” Newport said.
“You go home at night with a few aches and pains.”